External Affairs Minister Shri Jaswant Singh's Interview with Tim Sebastian in HARD TALK

Telecast on BBC on July 19, 1999

Mr. Jaswant Singh, a very warm welcome to the programme.

Q. Now that President Clinton has successfully used his offices to help end the fighting in Kashmir, will India finally accept international mediation on Kashmir?

A. I think that there are many misassumptions in that. What President Clinton has done is to issue a statement with the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the fighting has stopped. It has stopped because firstly Pakistan had entered upon military misadventure that was potched up and the Indian army drew them out of Kargil sector and thereafter when defeat was imminent and the problem was likely to intensify for Pakistan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan rushed to Washington.

Q. But the President Clinton has used his good offices, hasn't he? and he has said that he is coming to the region, he is therefore directly interested in what is going to take place.

A. Yes. He has said he will be considering coming to the region. That is up to him.

Q. You will not refuse to talk to him about Kashmir.

A. Of course not. I would not refuse to talk to the President of USA on any issue that he wishes to talk about.

Q. So you have finally accepted international mediation on Kashmir.

A. No. No.

Q. Why not?

A. No. It doesn't necessarily follow. Because mediation is not an answer to Kashmir. Firstly…

Q. To be honest, your own efforts with Pakistan have not been successful over the years. Look at how many tens of thousands of people have died. Is it not time for international mediation. How many people have to die before you have international mediation?

A. No it is not time. It is not a question as to how many people have to die. The international community also has to recognise the reality. What is required here is an understanding, firstly that it is not alone a question of what you, somewhat loosely, call Kashmir. The state is called Jammu and Kashmir. It does not comprise of the valley alone. It has very large areas that are in the Ladakh Province and very large areas that are Jammu.

Q. Large areas that have been killing grounds. Why not explore every effort including international mediation?

A. The main point is for Pakistan to understand that it cannot force resolution of the issue. The main point is for Pakistan to understand and come to terms with its history and its geography.

Q. So the politics is more important than the loss of lives.

A. No of course not.

Q. But that is what you are saying.

A. No, I am saying politics is all about saving lives and you cannot save lives on misassumptions.

Q. But international mediation has worked in Middle East and Northern Ireland. Why not try it here?

A. Because Middle East is not India and India is not Middle East. We have after all, if you examine, from 72 onwards, which was the Shimla Agreement, it was bilateralism that worked and indeed in February 1999 what was reaffirmed was both the Shimla Agreement and Lahore process, it was all about bilateralism.

Q. Two out of three wars between India and Pakistan have been about Kashmir. Look at the heavy fighting and the hundreds of casualties. You yourself have internationlised the issue by having nuclear weapons. You want to have greater say in the affairs of the international community and international community will want a greater say in your affairs.

A. Yes, international community will certainly have a say, particularly in the television world, when news, events and incidents reach everyone's drawing room or bedroom almost instantly and of course the international community is interested in issues.

Q. In the last 50 years in Kashmir, back to resolutions of UN in 1948 and 49, which you ignored…..

A. No not ignored. The ground realities have changed. The interest about incidents of development is not an invitation (?) for mediation or even for intermediary roles. Let us be very clear on that. What is required is restoration of trust. Between nations or countries nothing will work, no mediation, no intermediary role unless the basic modicum of trust, goodwill and a desire to live together is considered.

Q. The over riding impression that India has something to hide. They do not want international mediation. You don't let the major human rights organisations go into Kashmir.

A. I think there are 2 or 3 again misassumptions there when you said never tried. Uptill Tashkent it was international mediation, 1965.

Q. World has moved on since then!

A. World has moved on since 1972, we entered upon a treaty agreement of Simla.

Q. It has not worked. The fighting of the last few weeks shows it has not.

A. It has. The fighting of the last few weeks is an aberration. Because we must find an answer and that answer is not in mediation.

Q. So your treaty of 1972 doesn't work.

A. It does work.

Q. But how does it work, if people still keep getting killed. You have outbreaks of fighting as you have in the last few weeks. It clearly doesn't work.

A. The outbreak of fighting is a question that really gets posed by the nature of Pakistan state. If that does not defeat the essence, essence of Pakistan coming to terms with itself, coming to terms with its geography, its history and finally renouncing terrorism, exported terrorism.

Q. What about India coming to terms with realities of people who wants autonomy in the region.

A. Absolutely, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has the largest amount of autonomy of any in India. India is a federal country.

Q. Three years Government reports have not been published.

A. We have held elections regularly. In every election, the issue is about autonomy and greater autonomy and the largest amount of autonomy is today enjoyed in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. You refer to human rights. We have a very independent press, we have regular elections and we have one of the most eminent jurists in the country today, who is heading the National Human Rights Commission.

Q. Can I just cite you what major human rights organization have said. I am sure that you are familiar with the latest documents of major organizations. They have said that Indian security forces have resorted to executions, disappearances, torture, rape, widespread arbitrary arrest and collective punishment have further alienated many Kashmiris. India must end its practice of disappearing, torturing and murdering suspected militants. You as a representative of the largest democracy in the world, you must be disgusted by these things.

A. No I am disgusted by the observation because the observation is based on incorrect information. We deputed …

Q. They don't write these things for fun. They are highly respected organizations.

A. But you have to respect the National Human Rights Commission too. Secondly, I will recommend for your consideration, that you have done this amount of homework on this, do spend some time in reading report by 2 or 3 of the most eminent and independent journalists of the country. It is about credibility. It is written by George Verghese. Every single incident of human rights violation was investigated by them.

Q. Not according to these organizations, Minister

A. These organizations, that you cite (interruption). But if you selectively cite only some organizations and pay no heed to what others have said in this regard.

Q. But they are two of the most independent and most highly respected organizations.

A. We have highly respected jurist heading the National Human Rights Commission, who take his job extremely seriously. The commission is autonomous. The best answer for such judges is the thriving and practice of democracy and the free press.

Q. But it is not there. You have arbitrary arrest and torture. The Amnesty and other human rights organizations say this. You are saying none of this is true.

A. Amnesty International has not had access to the valley.

Q. Yes. Why don't you let it have access to the valley?

A. The Parliament has examined this. The sense of the Parliament, Government after Government, has been that Amnesty International comes up with its report on hearsay.

Q. What have you got to hide?

A. There is nothing to hide. The hiding is in your mind.

Q. Even Red Cross, the ICRC have been given very limited access to the valley.

A. They have custodial right. That is enough for what Red Cross's function is.

Q. You are not even letting UN even to use the airport in Srinagar.

A. This is factually incorrect because all that was told was that the UN, when UN goes on its aircraft, there has been no customs facilities in Srinagar, will route its aircraft via Delhi. You are factually incorrect.

Q. But they say there is a continuing disagreement on this.

A. No, when you cite the UN aircraft, you are being factually incorrect. They were told you cannot go directly to Srinagar because Srinagar does not have customs facilities. By all means to Srinagar you route your aircraft through Delhi.

Q. Your argument was that you do not want lot of people hanging around without Indian visas and customs. This was said by an Indian official.

A. There is no question of hanging around without visas. There are no customs, there are no immigration facilities there. So you can go to customs and immigration in Delhi.

Q. Let Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch get in Kashmir.

A. If Parliament agrees to it, I have no difficulty in it. It is constantly under examination and it is constantly under review.

Q. But it has not happened. Anything can be under review. You set up a Commission and investigate for years, nothing will happen.

A. But that is how democracy works. Democracy…

Q. Democracy works by opening up.

A. It does also work by what the Parliament decides to do and if the Parliament has a viewpoint no government can override that viewpoint.

Q. So you reject all these accusations.

A. I do reject.

Q. Completely!

A. Absolutely!

Q. Even if you have not personally investigated all these.

A. We have the National Human Rights Commission investigating; each and every incident was investigated also in that report by George Verghese.

Q. There are plenty of examples where they say there have been no investigation. Let me just cite one example. A lady called Helen Baig. Her 14 year old son was shot dead in Srinagar. Now, her other son had been arrested by security forces in December 1992 and then disappeared. Since then she had campaigned to highlight the issue.

A. I have not doubt in my mind that the National Human Rights Commission is fully seized of the matter. And if the National Human Rights Commission is seized of the matter, I have full confidence in that Commission and I have no doubt in my mind that the jurist, who is one of the eminent judges of our Supreme Court, who heads this body today, will not take this lightly.

Q. There are other allegations are that there are legislations protecting members of security forces from investigations and prosecutions.

A. There are legislations of various varieties. I do not know which legislation you mean. If that is externally aided terrorism and insurgency incited in my land, then the state will take upon itself such power as are needed to combat it.

Q. But it has not so far. These allegations could not have been more serious.

A. Every serious or non-serious allegation will be investigated, I can assure you.

Q. So this particular case, which you will go over and investigate. But all these incidents which I cited, will you go over and investigate them.

A. Well, I don't know every case that takes place and every complaint that has been made. I will certainly have this message conveyed to the National Human Rights Commission, which is the agency that would investigate this.

Q. And your local authorities as well!

A. No. It is federal government. If it is happening in the capital of the State of Jammu and Kashmir, then it is the state government that will act.

Q. You are absolutely happy with your Human Rights record in Kashmir in contrast to these respected human rights organisations.

A. No one can be absolutely happy. I am not saying that I am absolutely happy. But I am not painting the kind of picture that you are attempting to paint.

Q. I am not painting it. I am merely quoting from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and asking for your reaction.

A. When faced with insurgency, which is externally aided and abetted, given the kind of thriving democracy and free press and an autonomous Human Rights Commission that India has, headed by one of its most eminent jurists we have seen in the last 50 years of independence, India has nothing to be ashamed of.

Q. And insurgency is not an excuse for human rights violation.

A. Absolutely not. That is exactly why every case of human rights violation, notwithstanding insurgency that comes to the notice of Human Rights Commission, they fully examine it.

Q. And I have your assurance that you….

A. I will have this matter brought to the notice of National Human Rights Commission.

Q. And the other ones of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also.

A. I have no doubt in my mind. I cannot give you an assurance about the Amnesty report because I have no doubt that National Human Rights Commission already has that report.

Q. It is a huge blot on India's reputation.

A. I reject that thesis altogether.

Q. Why? The allegations have been published.

A. Fine. Simply because they are published is no ground for me to accept that it is a blot on India's fair name. It is not.

Q. The EU as well has called on you to open the area to EU ambassadors.

A. We will address ourselves seriously to every such request that we receive internationally. We take decisions in good time and every decision that we take has to have the approval of the Parliament.

Q. It has been a long time.

A. No. It has not been. Every decision takes its time in a democracy. Democracy has its own dynamics and its own time frame.

Q. Minister, when you look at the fact that more than a year after the nuclear test, you do not seem to have done much for your security.

A. No. I think you are completely in the wrong there. The assumption behind that is completely false because the suggestion is India's nuclear programme was country specific. I have repeatedly said India's nuclear programme is not country specific.

Q. Your Defence Minister, George Fernandes has said that China is the number one enemy.

A. I think you are again factually incorrect. That is not what he has said. That is what the newspapers headlines said.

Q. He never said that.

A. He did not.

Q. He said many things.

A. Ministers say many things.

Q. So China is not a threat.

A. I have just been to China and said in Beijing which I have no difficulty in repeating. China is a great neighbour; It is an ancient civilization. We have some concerns with the People's Republic of China, but those concerns we address mutually, bilaterally as responsible neighbours. Our nuclear programme is not country specific. It is specifically based on no first use, its no first use is categorical. It is non-use against non-nuclear weapons state. In the last UN General Assembly we went to the extent of even moving a resolution, which receive a fair degree of support, of de-alert. We believe that the ultimate path is of disarmament and total abolition of all weapons of mass destruction.

Q. So this is the basic illogicality. You want to increase the world's number of nuclear weapons at the same time as disarming.

A. If Great Britain and NATO continuing to assert the right to have possessed nuclear weapons and denying that right to others.

Q. We are trying to get down the nuclear mountain ever since the nuclear cuts of the eighties. The rest of the world is trying to climb down this mountain of madness that it had constructed and you are trying to climb up.

A. No we are not climbing it.

Q. Exactly opposite direction to the rest of the world.

A. We are simply asserting that the security of some cannot be so imprerogative in determining such a policy.

Q. So you are pressing ahead, bequeathing the world extra nuclear weapons.

A. No I reject that too.

Q. You are weaponising your boys. Aren't you?

A. No. You must understand that what we are saying is that it is not possible for some foreign countries to decide what India's security is all about.

Q. But you are pressing ahead with weaponisation.

A. Of course, we have said, we have said so and we have said that there will be no first use. It is a minimum deterrent which is meant entirely for defensive purposes and that right, if NATO can, that as recently as in the April this year re-enunciate, without any invisible enemies, Great Britain can still continue to adhere or France...

Q. But we are trying to cut the weapons and you are building new ones. You can't have it both ways. Look at the huge cuts that took place in the eighties between the major powers.

A. Show me one cut that has taken place in NATO. If in April 1999, NATO reaffirms the right to have nuclear weapons, re-enunciates the relevance of nuclear weapons, even now when there is no Warsaw Pact, please don't lecture India because the specificity of India's security problems are complex and they do not relate. If NATO can come to this conclusions that we will continue to have them, I do and forcefully assert that the only principle that will apply is equal and legitimate security for all and it is not possible for Great Britain to decide what the security of India should be or how it should be established.

Q. Minister, you are taking no account of the experience of the super powers of the mutual assured destruction which everybody realises was a mistake. You are taking no account of the accidents that took place during the cold war. What happens if you have an accident.

A. I think, you are making yet another error. And this is the fundamental error.

Q. No I am not making an error. I am asking you a question. My question is what happens if there is an accident with one of your nuclear devices.

A. India has one of the oldest nuclear programmes much older than, (…); the People's Republic of China. Our nuclear programme started in 1956. Between 1956 and 1999, there has not been one nuclear accident in India. We have an extremely able and extremely effective regulatory mechanism.

Q. But the United States said exactly the same thing. It nearly blew away half of South Carolina in the fifties as we have now learnt. If one of your devices -------though I pray God it doesn't.

A. Pray God also that devices remaining that are in Great Britain, United States of America, France, Russia. Why don't you give advice to your own kith and kins.

Q. Because we are trying to cut the weapons. We are trying to cut the weapons since the big cuts of 1980s. You are bucking the trend.

A. The trend is to acquire and keep to ourselves as the sole prerogative that security is the right only of a few.

Q. You may accept one thing that the more nuclear devices you have in the world, the more dangerous it actually is.

A. Yes, I will.

Q. You have added to the number of nuclear devices.

A. No I have not added to the number of devices. I have simply taken care to preserving India's strategic autonomy and stakes.

Q. How many do you need for them?

A. I am certainly not going to discuss numbers. You can keep guessing.

Q. How many do you need to assure your security so that you stay peacefully at night.

A. I have defined that as carefully as exactly as I want to.

Q. It is a serious question.

A. I am also seriously declining to discuss numbers.

Q. Why?

A. Because it is never done. You will not find this answer from anyone.

Q. We know how many weapons the superpowers have. Why can't, if you are going to be open and responsible as you told rest of the world that you are going to be. Tell how many missiles you intend to weaponise.

A. We have an integrated missile development programme. It is public. It comes to the Parliament every year. It is discussed, debated and the budget grants for it are approved by the Parliament.

Q. It is public and nuclear programme that was set for peaceful purposes?

A. Yes. The entire department of atomic energy programme is separate and it is again a matter that Parliament looks into every year.

Q. Half your military plutonium came from a reactor which was supplied to you by the Canadians for peaceful purposes. You signed contracts stipulating that this would be for peaceful purposes and then your country went and broke.

A. No it is factually incorrect. Because it is not sufficiently well-realised that India's nuclear programme is entirely indigenous. Whatever is under international safeguard, is still very much under international safeguard and we have impeccably abided by every international obligation in that regard and shall continue to abide.

Q. Minister, that is heavily disputed, completely disputed by all the bodies that monitor weapons. Two shipments of heavy water were illegally transferred, one from Russia and one from Norway.

A. No. Every transfer that is for IAEA safeguarded plants, installations, every transfer (interrupt). We have representatives on the board of IAEA, we are members of the IAEA. We have representatives at very senior positions. If you are to continue to put across hearsay and then…

Q. These are published reports, Minister. These are not hearsay.

A. But published reports have also been refuted. India's record…

Q. You have refuted all published reports. You refute any criticism of India whatsoever.

A. Yes, if the criticism is unfounded, I shall certainly refute it.

Q. But from whatever good source it happens to come.

A. Why do you not treat the source of refutation also as a good source.

Q. Minister, can I come back to this question? Do you sleep more peacefully knowing well that you have nuclear weapons?

A. In fact, I think I do enjoy a very good health and I can sleep very well every night.

Thank you very much.